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John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection


Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

Cylinders 1683-1686, 1687-1690. Three copies

Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.

Cylinders 1719-1624, 1725-1729. Three copies. Sound quality good.

Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.

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John Reed Swanton Recordings Collection | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

By Zachary R. Jones, Archivist

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Collection Overview

Title: John Reed Swanton Recordings CollectionAdd to your cart.

ID: MC/046

Primary Creator: Swanton, John Reed (1873-1958)

Other Creators: Deikeenáak’w

Extent: 4.0 Items

Date Acquired: 01/12/2006

Subjects: Tlingit Indians--History., Tlingit language.

Languages: Tlingit

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection contains copies of the fieldwork recordings made by anthropologist John Reed Swanton (1873-1958) at Sitka, Alaska between January and March of 1904 when he interviewed Tlingit Indians for his academic research. These recordings primarily contain Tlingit songs sung by Daalwools’ées (Donald Cameron) (1871-1938) (Kaagwaantaan clan) and Deikeenáak’w (John Morris) (Kaagwaantaan clan, Kóok Hít), portions of which were published and transcribed by Swanton in his Tlingit Myths and Texts. These songs, the vast bulk by Deikeenáak’w, speak about many Tlingit clans and their history and culture. The audio for these recordings were recorded on a gramophone an early recording devise, with the original wax cylinders surving and in the possession of the Library of Congress.

After his time in Southeast Alaska Swanton returned to the Lower 48 and continued his work for the Bureau of American Ethnology. The recordings he made in Sitka, which survived to be placed in an archive, amounted to 32 wax cylinders. The content from these cylinders are now available and condensed onto 4 CDs as part of this collection. These audio recordings are some of the oldest surviving audio recordings of Tlingit language. While the audio quality on some of the recordings is poor, some recordings are very audible.

The original recordings made by Swanton are held by the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, This collection also contains paper copies of metadata (content descriptive information) compiled by the American Folklife Center, which details the content of these recordings. This metadata information is provided in this collection, but spellings and content may not be entirely accurate and need revision.

For further background, Swanton, an employee of the Bureau of American Ethnology, came to Southeast Alaska to study the Tlingit in the spring of 1904, largely the first American anthropologist to do so and publish on the Tlingit, though anthropologist Franz Boas and George T. Emmons were beginning to study the Tlingit. While in Southeast Alaska in the spring of 1904 Swanton visited both Sitka and Wrangell, documenting Tlingit oral literature, the Tlingit language, and Tlingit culture. He published a number of essays on the Tlingit, a small ethnography entitled Social Condition, Beliefs, and Linguistic Relationship of the Tlingit Indians in 1908, and then Tlingit Myths and Texts in 1909 which contained abbreviated versions of Tlingit oral narratives in English and full oral narratives with both the Tlingit and English provided.

Swanton offered little explanation about his fieldwork process and informants, but some information is known. At Sitka Daalwools’ées served as Swanton’s cultural informant and interpreter that helped Swanton connect with Tlingit elders who would speak about Tlingit culture. Of those interviewed at Sitka, Swanton later published two stories in Tlingit Myths and Texts from Sitka born Kályaan (Kiks.ádi clan), one story from Yakutat born K’áadasteen (Kwaashk’i Kwáan clan), some from Daalwools’ées, and then the bulk of stories from Deikeenáak’w. At Wrangell Swanton spent most of his time working with Tlingit elders Kaadashaan (John Kadashan) (Kaasx’gweidí Clan) (1834-1914), his mother Léek, and an individual Swanton identified only as “old Kake man” named “Kasa’nk.”


SHI cannot make copies of these recordings without the permission of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.


John R. Swanton, Tlingit Myths and Texts (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1909).

Judith A. Gray, The Federal Cylinder Project: A Guide to Field Cylinder Collections in Federal Agencies (Washington, DC: American Folklife Center, 1988): 259-274.

Zachary R. Jones, “Haa Daat Akawshixít, He wrote about us”; Contextualizing Anthropologist John R. Swanton’s Fieldwork and Writings on the Tlingit, 1904-1908,” Presented at the Sharing Our Knowledge: A Conference of Tlingit Tribes & Clans, Juneau, AK, Nov. 2013.

Biographical Note

John R. Swanton was an anthropologist, PhD from Harvard University, that conducted fieldwork and study among Native American Indian tribes across the United States. On the Northwest Coast he conducted extensive work among the Haida and some work among the Tlingit, authoring books about the oral traditions and cultures of the Tlingit and Haida.

Subject/Index Terms

Tlingit Indians--History.
Tlingit language.

Administrative Information

Repository: Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Access Restrictions: Restrictions: These recordings can be listened to by SHI patrons, but we cannot make copies of these recordings, since the originals are held by the Library of Congress.

Use Restrictions: Intellectual Properties Note: Since SHI adheres to the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, and since we desire to honor Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian traditional cultural belief that clans retain the intellectual property rights to clan stories or songs, patrons who use or study clan songs or stories are asked to credit clan ownership to stories and songs.

Acquisition Source: Kenneth H. Lea

Acquisition Method: The material in the collection was donated to SHI on January 12, 2006 by Kenneth H. Lea, who obtained the copies from the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Item:

[Item 1: Cylinders 1683-1686, 1687-1690. Three copies],
[Item 2: Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.],
[Item 3: Cylinders 1719-1624, 1725-1729. Three copies. Sound quality good.],
[Item 4: Cylinders 1730-1734, 1739-1742. Three copies.],

Item 2: Cylinders 1691-1694, 1695-1716. Three copies. Sound quality poor to audible.Add to your cart.

Cylinder 1691; AFS # 17,029:9; 4:13. Attributed to Deinaku.

A man named Nuslni composed this song and immediately afterward stabbed several of his friends [#66--p. 406].

[1:13] A man had all of his friends destroyed by a bear, and was the only one left in the fort they were then occupying. There he composed this song. The last words are used because he was going to succeed his uncle [#71--p. 407].

[2:30] A song used at feasts when two of the host's people dance and one of each of the two parties invited sings for them [#123--p. 395].

[3:09--Song or repetition or continuation?].

Notes: Much surface noise. There are only three recorded bands on the cylinder and only three songs listed; 4) is minimally audible and may be a repetition or continuation of earlier material. 2) begins and 3) ends abruptly.

Cylinder 1692; AFS # 17,029:10; 4:34. Attributed to Don Cameron.

A love song composed by a dancer named Siq’oet, who belonged to the Raven phratry [moiety]. His sweetheart was away when the 4th of July came [#101--p. 415].

[1:56] Composed by Qa ucte, a Kaagwaantaan man, about men who never keep their word--those who talk much after they have been drinking and later do not remember what they have said [#97--p. 414].

[2:49] Composed by a man named Raven-skin (Yet-dugu) when his sweetheart abandoned him [#102--p. 415].

[3:40] Song composed by a man who had been brought up in court before Judge Tuttle [#98--p. 414].

Cylinder 1693; AFS # 17,029:11; 4:25. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by a man called Small-lake-underneath (Hayi-aku) about a drifting log found full of nails, out of which a house was built. It is used when a feast is about to be given for a dead man, and they have their blankets tied up to their waists and carry canes [#24--p. 395].

[1:46] A Kaagwaantaan song used at a feast when a slave is to be killed [#25--p. 395].

[3:35] Composed by a Chi1kat man named Kaogu on the instant when he was asked to compose a song about a certain man's mother who had just died [#72--p. 407].

Cylinder 1694; AFS # 17,029:12; 4:05. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed about the Gaanaxteidí woman who reared the woodworm [#6--p. 391].

[1:32] Composed by a man named Katda … whose wife was taken away from him by her people, who would not let her return [#63--p. 405].

[2:28] This is called a "half song," and was composed by a man named Saxa, about a deer [#91--p. 412].

[3:19] Composed by one of the Lenedi [likely the L’eeneidí Clan] about Juneau when gold was first found there [#49--p. 4011.

Cylinders 1695; AFS # 17,029:13; 3:57. Attributed to Deinaku.

A potlatch song composed by Man-that-obeys (Q’ayax-qoste) of the Box-house people [#26--p. 396].

[1:42] Composed by Naweya, a very old man of the Box-house people, just before he died, so that it could be used at feasts [#27--p. 396].

[2:50] A cradle song of unknown authorship. It might be used by anyone [#16--p. 393].

[3:31] The song with which Raven was nursed. Both phratries [moieties] use it [#17--p. 393].

Cylinders 1705; AFS # 21,251:2-3; 4:13; 5:17. Attributed to Deinaku.

Same as [first song on cylinder 1727] [169--p. 407].

[1:14/1:40] Composed by Here-is-a-feather (T’aoyat), one of the Kaagwaantaan, when his brother died. It is used as a mourning and dancing song [#75--p. 408].

[2:26/3:14] Composed by Man-for-himself (Stuwaqa), one of the Kaagwaantaan, about his wife, who was from Kake. It was originally composed for the Haida [#76--pp. 408-9].

[3:37/4:28] Composed by Man-that-is-not-all-right (Qa-ucte) about ·Princess Thom (Gadjint), because when she was very young all sorts of young men went to her house, filling it as if it were a saloon [#62--p. 405].

Notes: Recorded twice on preservation tape; the first take is too fast. Surface noise. Abrupt starts on 2), 3), and 4); abrupt cut-off on 4). Cylinder box marked "12." [MS]: 2) "A mistake was made by inverting the words of this in graphophone." [According to Sitka Tlingit people who heard the recording in 1986, 3) is a song for Haida dancing, the text is in Tlingit. It was composed by the person listed for song #2 (T’aoyat, also spelled "Tlaquya") and is still sung today. ]

Cylinder 1716; AFS # 21,252:2; 6:24. Attributed to Deinaku.

Composed by Other-water (Gonahin) over a dead man [#73--p. 408].

[2:00] Composed by Naotsin when peace was made between the Luknaax.ádi and the Kaagwaantaan [#92--p. 413].

[4:00] Composed by Going-across-the-road (Degahet), a rich man who was paid to compose it, one time when the Kaagwaantaan and the Wuckitan made peace [#93--p. 413].

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